A unique project which is ensuring that the history of East Ayrshire’s ‘lost’ mining villages is preserved has been given a boost.

The Lost Villages project is one of 22 projects being undertaken by the Coalfield Communities Landscape Partnership.

East Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet agreed to a six month extension to the University of Strathclyde-run project that is capturing much of the history at risk of being lost as it has only been passed down through word of mouth.

SNP Councillor Elaine Cowan said: “If we don’t do it now it will be lost for future generations.

“I don’t think we should underestimate the importance of projects like this for the cohesion of our communities and the collective wellbeing.”

In a report to the cabinet, Strategic Manager for Development Planning Karen Purves stated: “The aim of the project is to capture the ‘intangible history’ of life in the Row Villages, particularly the so called ‘lost villages’ of Lethanhill, Burnfoothill and Benwhat (often referred to as Benquhat) in the Doon Valley and Commondyke and Darnconner in the Lugar valley along with Glenbuck.”

The project has embraced young and old alike, with school pupils and other groups working with those older residents who remember the history of the area first hand.

It is also proving invaluable to younger generations, giving them the chance to embrace their heritage and culture, while also developing their skills.

The report continued: “The oral history project involves local school pupils and other groups in the process of capturing the experiences of those who grew up in the historic villages, allowing them to develop skills in the use of audio visual technology and interviewing.”

Painting a picture of the history of those ‘lost villages’ will then be used to create heritage trails, literature and more.

Ms Purves added: “The project records the memories of older generations, a vital piece of our social history and to understanding and stimulating sense of place.

“These memories of those who were born, brought up and worked in these unique working class communities would otherwise be lost.”

A total of £6.4m in funding for the 22 projects, including grants from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and East Ayrshire Council, was secured in 2020.

The Lost Villages project got underway in March 2021, after the council commissioned the University of Strathclyde to capture the ‘intangible history’ of life in the Row Villages, and the impact of de-industrialisation.

Unfortunately, it coincided with the pandemic, resulting in a ban on face-to-face interviews during lockdown and, subsequently, being restricted by social distancing.
Ms Purves said: “Given that the interviewing community largely consists of elderly residents, often with limited IT skills, remote interviewing proved extremely difficult.”

Over 450 items, interviews, images, events and artefacts related to the area’s heritage and the six lost villages, have been recorded.

Ms Purves said: “Highlights have included community events and ‘memory booths’ at Dalmellington and Logan, the discovery of important ‘lost’ oral history interviews conducted in the 1980s and 1990s and new student placements from the University of Strathclyde in East Ayrshire community projects."

A project website has also been established at www.thelostvillages.co.uk

Councillor Neal Ingram asked Ms Purves whether there was potential for a museum.

She responded: “We will certainly look at what else we can do physically so when you are wandering around you can actually connect into the project.”

Former miner Councillor Jim McMahon pointed out that ‘some of the language could disappear’.

He added: “I think it is important to keep some of the old Scottish words in there. It is vital to record that history in the years to come. ”

The extension of the project will allow outstanding work to be completed, including:

  • Oral history project interviews and memory booth activities
  • Archival deposit of documents, photographs and other donated ephemera.
  • Public engagement activities including 10 organised events at local community venues in East Ayrshire, involving over 200 local residents.
  • Completion of an project book for publication.
  • Local commemoration event at the Baird Institute and event /exhibition at the Cumnock Heritage Centre.

The extension costs £39,750, but will be met by the lottery grant and other CCLP funds, rather than the council.